Happy Birthday! The SMS turns 20

Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday SMS, Happy birthday to you!

The humble SMS has turned 20 today. The first SMS, or text as it’s now referred to, was sent on December 3rd 1992 by Sema Group software developer Neil Papworth, to his friend Richard Jarvis of Vodafone. He recalls the moment when the first message was sent:

Since mobile phones didn't yet have keyboards, I typed the message out on a PC. It read 'Merry Christmas' and I sent it to Richard Jarvis of Vodafone, who was enjoying his office Christmas party at the time.

With eight trillion texts sent last year alone, it’s one feature of mobile phones that has grown and flourished, bringing a range of quirky, fun, informative and frustrating messages to your handset over the past 20 years. From jokes to spam texts, saucy sexting to prayers, the current crop of teenage mobile phone users are more text savvy than Papworth probably thought possible.

We thought SMS was a clever way for a company's staff to send simple messages to one another. I do get a kick out of being called a 'legend', once a year. Even if at the time the achievement was nothing remarkable, I was just doing my job. It's been quite amazing to watch SMS grow from a simple way for secretaries to page their managers to all these innovative applications that rely on text messaging – voting on reality shows, tracking vehicles or packages and telling you when a plane has landed.

While it took seven years for the functionality to take hold, it didn’t take anywhere near that for text speak to become a way of talking, all to simply save on a few characters. While terms like LOL and ROFL are quirky and fun, a raft of normal words have been replaced by abbreviated or trunc8ed terms (see what we did there?). BRB, FML and WBU are just some of the examples of the creativity of the users, with the abbreviated terms being seen as normal words to the initiated.

So in 1999 UK mobile operators started to offer the ability to text each other. Introducing the functionality at the same time as pas-as-you-go mobile tariffs, the humble text became a staple in society, not just in the mobile phone space. And while social networking has become the norm for smartphone users, the simple text continues to be available in places and on mobile devices that Facebook and Twitter just can’t reach.

Maybe it’s only fitting to allow the first person to send a text have the last words. Now working in Canada, Papworth celebrated the anniversary with a text sent to the Observer:

IMHO, SMS is still the GR8ST :-)

Source: The Guardian | Images courtesy of Source Fed and Nokia Conversations

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18 Comments

em_te said,
SMS is the best money-maker since hot air.

Indeed, imagine if email was a paid service!! So many people send txt messages in large volumes and the data contained is tiny! I imagine some 30kb would be enough to contain even the most prolific texter.

em_te said,
SMS is the best money-maker since hot air.

agreed, I still don't understand why txt messages is not just part of our data plan. The federal government needs to look into this. I have unlimited data yet I only get x amount free txt messages I am charged extra.

example: I can use Whatsapp all day as part of data plan but heaves forbid I go 1 txt over my monthly allotment.

red hook said,

agreed, I still don't understand why txt messages is not just part of our data plan. The federal government needs to look into this. I have unlimited data yet I only get x amount free txt messages I am charged extra.

example: I can use Whatsapp all day as part of data plan but heaves forbid I go 1 txt over my monthly allotment.


There are unlimited texting plans...

But honestly, if everyone had unlimited, the abuse would be insane. Not to mention carriers would have to look elsewhere for the revenue lost...

It's hardly EVER as simple as "the government looking into something and just saying No...". And in the end it only makes it worse.

My point is that text messages are being treated as separate from data for no other reason than a money grab. While you can use other apps as part as your data plan without any issue.

We send way more data through emails yet you pay more for texting.

M_Lyons10 said,
But honestly, if everyone had unlimited, the abuse would be insane. Not to mention carriers would have to look elsewhere for the revenue lost...

Except that SMS doesn't incur any extra cost to the carrier as the messages are carried in the small unused data blocks of the phone pinging the tower - hence the 160 character limit.

OMGWTFMFWBBQ?!

20 years...wow, that's impressive. The text speak less so, especially considering that it's initial purpose was to condense information in to 140 characters or less, which really isn't an issue these days.

Intrinsica said,
OMGWTFMFWBBQ?!

20 years...wow, that's impressive. The text speak less so, especially considering that it's initial purpose was to condense information in to 140 characters or less, which really isn't an issue these days.


It still is for feature phones that get separate texts, sometimes out of order. LOL

However, an abbreviation should actually have a benefit. LOL - Sure. BRB - O.K. 2Day? Give me a break.

M_Lyons10 said,
It still is for feature phones that get separate texts, sometimes out of order. LOL

I can't remember the last time I saw a phone receive separate text messages. Even with my Nokia 3330 if I received "multiple messages" they would appear as one text message.

Pluto is a Planet said,
BTW does anyone know what FML means from the article

"F*** My Life." It's normally used when it feels like everyone and everything is against you.

"I had a difficult day and just wanted to relax with a yogurt, but the lid's tab broke off. FML."

Don't ask me where that example came from, I honestly have no idea.

Intrinsica said,

"F*** My Life." It's normally used when it feels like everyone and everything is against you.

"I had a difficult day and just wanted to relax with a yogurt, but the lid's tab broke off. FML."

Don't ask me where that example came from, I honestly have no idea.

**** my life?

its done well for its self considering its original design was to be used by network engineers
to communicate diagnostic fault codes across cell sites.

I love that SMS so much, because the old tele-typewriter (TTY) has noise when deaf people type on that one was sooooo loud! I see many deaf people use SMS and Videophone, and use computer too. one day that tty will get out of business maybe.

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